Need some pain relief but don’t want to medicate? Find out what helps and why.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, one in every four Americans have suffered from pain that lasts longer than 24 hours. In fact, chronic pain is oftentimes a source of anxiety and depression. While some medications might be necessary for severe pain, many people often over-medicate with pills, and suffer the consequences. For example, NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen can often lead to a leaky gut, stomach ulcers, and even gastritis. Yet perhaps the most troublesome truth is that pain medications themselves can actually worsen the pain the person is experiencing. This paradoxical reaction is called opioid-induced hyperalgesia, and can further complicate pain management treatment.

In evaluating the proper course of treatment for your pain, it’s first essential to identify what the root cause is. For example – stress, inflammation, depression, and poor sleep habits oftentimes play a more significant role than we initially think. Rather than opting for a pill, consider natural supplements, herbs, or even essential oils for pain relief.

Here are a few other ways to relieve pain that might not be on the conventional route’s radar…

  1. Change your diet

Studies have shown that an anti-inflammatory diet is effective in managing pain. This also entails avoiding other pro-inflammatory foods which include foods that are processed, added sugars, and saturated fats. Try to eat a plant-based diet with nourishing fats such as avocados, nuts, and even some dark chocolate. Also practice adding more disease-fighting phytonutrients to your diet, or herbs like parsley and rosemary as well as spices. For example, curcumin—the key phenolic compound in the spice turmeric—has been found to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, & antioxidant properties. Furthermore, supplements such as fish oil, magnesium, bromelain, and glucosamine have also been proven to help in pain management. Food is medicine, so nourish your body wisely.

  1. Decrease your stress & practice the EFT technique

Research has shown there is a critical overlap between chronic stress and pain. Through incorporating stress-relieving practices such as taking hot epsom salt baths, meditating, and performing EFT (the emotional freedom technique), you can better learn to manage your pain. The emotional freedom technique is effectively a psychological acupressure technique that optimizes one’s emotional health. It consists of simple tapping on different acupressure points on the body while simultaneously saying positive affirmations to yourself. Meditation—defined as the act of attempting to clear the mind through concentrated focus on an object, sound, breath, or other movement—is designed to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It has been shown to regulate emotional and affective responses to stress, decrease inflammation in the body, and strengthen the immune system.

  1. Try acupuncture

Acupuncture—defined as “a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical locations on the skin by a variety of techniques” by the National Institutes of Health—is derived from ancient Chinese medicine, which takes into account four main functions the body needs to work properly in order to maintain health. Acupuncture has been associated with reductions in chronic pain as well as the release of endorphins in the brainMRI’s have shown that acupuncture has effects on cortical activity, and neuroimaging has been shown to distinguish between placebo vs real acupuncture. Furthermore, during acupuncture, the amygdala and hypothalamus were found to be a central part of the activation response of the brain. These findings are critical given that the amygdala is an important brain center for pain modulation while the hypothalamus is responsible for the release of stress hormones.

  1. Exercise with Yoga & Tai Chi

Physical exercise has been shown to be an effective non-pharmacological treatment of chronic pain. In fact some of the most beneficial exercises for alleviating pain include yoga & Tai-Chi. For example, yoga has been shown to help people deal with the emotional aspects of chronic pain, reduce anxiety and depression effectively, and improve the quality of life perceived, while Tai Chi has been shown to be an effective intervention in osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low back pain. These non-strenuous exercises also help contribute to mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment, which also helps to alleviate symptoms of pain.

  1. Massage therapy

Conventional treatments for pain have typically entailed surgery or other opioid-based options. However, recent research has suggested that these pharmacologic options not only have various side effects but do not sufficiently address all the factors involved in the experience of pain. In fact, a more integrative approach at pain management – one that addresses emotional as well as physical pain – is being explored. One such modality is massage therapy. For example, a 2016 study revealed that massage therapy is a viable pain management option, as results demonstrated that massage therapy effectively treated pain compared to sham treatment. Massage therapy helps to alleviate pain through different mechanisms spanning from relaxing muscles, relieving anxiety and stress, stimulating nerve fibers, and impeding pain messages both to and from the brain.

  1. Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care is effectively a means to diagnose and treat health problems that affect the muscles, nerves, bones, and joints of the body. Given that the nervous system controls everything in the body, chiropractors are trained to identify areas within the spine that cause irritation to the nervous system (such as pain). Through a procedure called spinal manipulation (or adjustment), chiropractors help to restore spinal function in their patients. Studies have shown that chiropractic care may in fact provide short-term benefits in decreasing hip pain in patients with hip osteoarthritis.

  1. Essential Oils

Essential oils are naturally occurring oils that are extracted from certain plant species, and can be found in the roots, stems, leaves, or even flowers. Created through the process of distillation, a single drop of an essential oil can have an incredibly strong aroma. They have an ancient history as being used for various health purposes—due to their antibacterial, detoxifying, antidepressant, and calming properties. In fact, a 2016 study revealed that aromatherapy can successfully treat pain when combined with conventional treatments. In particular, lavender and eucalyptus oils have been shown to reduce pain as well as inflammation in the body. Essential oils enter the body through being either inhaled, ingested, or applied topically. You can place a few drops in a diffuser, add some to a bowl of steaming water, or apply it topically to the skin. However, when directly applied to the skin, due to its high concentration, essential oils should first be diluted with a carrier substance, such as coconut or almond oil. The recommended ratio is 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 tsp of carrier substance. My personal favorite brands are rocky mountain, doterra, and young living.

Remember that perfection is the enemy of progress, so try to be kind to yourself each day with the choices you make. Considering trying some of these alternative practices for a more integrative approach at pain management, and see the difference it can make. 

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